Picture: SOWETAN
Picture: SOWETAN

FIVE of Gauteng’s top 10 e-toll accounts with the largest outstanding debt, in the range of between R5m and R26m, have agreed to pay off their outstanding debt.

This is according to Electronic Toll Collection (ETC), the company that collects tolls in partnership with the South African National Roads Agency.

However, ETC said it was in the process of issuing summons through the courts to get noncompliant road users and fleet owners to pay their historic e-toll debt.

The company said it had separated motorists into categories, encompassing those who were willing to pay, those who refused to pay and "nonresponders", or those who had not responded to repeated attempts for contact. Civil action would be launched against nonresponders and those who refused to pay.

ETC said companies with large fleets were among the 17% of e-toll defaulters whose total outstanding debt made up 83% of unpaid fees, which amounted to more than R5bn in e-toll debt.

In total, there are more than 3.5-million e-toll accounts, with each account holding more than one car on average.

ETC is also collecting toll fees from users keen on taking up the 60% discount on historic debt accumulated between December 2013 and August last year. The discount was announced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in May.

Motorists have until May 1 to take up the 60% discount. But arrangements can be made to settle the debt over six months. The company would not indicate the discount take-up, saying it would release these details at the close of the window period on May 1.

Speaking at a media briefing, ETC CEO Jamie Surkont said collecting historic e-toll debt had taken too long, and this was creating a culture of non compliance.

"It has been too long, and if you create a bubble of debt which people are not paying, it makes the process of collection far more onerous," Mr Surkont said.

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse chairman Wayne Duvenage said the "court collateral challenge" on the "unlawfulness" of e-tolling is long overdue.

"We have been and remain in wait for them to summons anyone for non-payment. We know of no basis that they can however summons anyone, as the minister of transport is on record in in Parliament in July 2014 as saying they cannot bring criminal charges against non-payers of e-tolls.  So we trust they will do it right this time," said Mr Duvenage.

Transport economist Andrew Marsay said e-tolling was going to be a "slow and steady" process. He said plans to link the Gauteng e-tolling system to tolls on highways in other provinces could increase compliance from private motorists.